By Robin Gomes
A quarter of the world’s population across 17 countries is living in regions of extremely high water stress, a measure of the level of competition over water resources, a new report reveals.
Experts at the World Resources Institute (WRI) warn that increasing water stress could lead to more of what is called “day zero” – a term that gained popularity in 2018 as Cape Town in South Africa came dangerously close to running out of water.
Scramble for the precious resource
New data from the Aqueduct tools of the Washington-based global research organization compare the water available to the amount withdrawn for homes, industries, irrigation and livestock.
Irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities in the extremely high water-stressed countries, it says, withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year.
When demand rivals supply, even small dry spells, which are set to increase because of the climate change, can produce dire consequences, the study warns.
Qatar, with a total score of 4.97 on a scale of 5, tops the list of 17 extremely high water-stressed countries. It is followed by Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, UAE, San Marino, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Oman and Botswana.
Qatar, Israel and Lebanon are ranked as the most water-stressed countries in the world, with Badghis in Afghanistan and Gaborone and Jwaneng in Botswana the world’s most water-stressed regions.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is home to 12 of the 17 high-risk countries. Another 27 countries comprise the "high baseline water stress" list.
Aid to better water management
WRI says the data reveals a global water crisis that will require better information, planning and water management.
“We’re currently facing a global water crisis,” said Betsy Otto, global director for water at WRI. “Our populations and economies are growing and demanding more water. But our supply is threatened by climate change, water waste and pollution.”
India, which ranks 13th on the list, has a population of some 1.3 billion, more than three times the total of the other 16 countries.
In July, taps in the southern city of Chennai ran dry and satellite photographs showing the city’s shrinking Puzhal Lake went viral on social media. Chennai is still reeling under water shortage.
Shashi Shekhar, former secretary of India’s ministry of water resources, and senior WRI fellow pointed out that Chennai’s water crisis make has made headlines recently but other areas in India are also experiencing chronic water stress.
Northern India faces severe groundwater depletion, visualized on report’s maps and included in calculations of water stress for the first time.
Effects of water-stress
A 2017 report by the World Bank emphasised that “while the consequences of drought are often invisible, they are significant and cause ‘misery in slow motion”.
The WRI report paints a worrying image of water risk and warns of other social and political problems attached to water shortages.
Around the world, stress on water supplies can exacerbate conflict and migration, threaten food supplies and pose risks for water-dependent industries, including mining and manufacturing.
“The picture is alarming in many places around the globe, but it’s very important to note that water stress is not destiny,” said Otto. “What we can’t afford to do any longer is pretend that the situation will resolve itself,” she warned.